LISBON - Jurors were selected Wednesday morning and then taken on a bus trip to view the place where Christopher Miller is accused of bludgeoning Matthew Bailey to death in late October 2013.
Miller, 36, U.S. Route 62, Salem, is charged in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court with aggravated murder, murder and tampering with evidence.
Following jury selection, a bus picked up jurors and took them past the Barnett Motel and through the Butler Mobile Park where Miller was living with Patti Colon at the time of the alleged murder. Then it parked at the end of an oil well access road off Hartley Road, between Slater and Shelton Road. There jurors were transferred into a Columbiana County Sheriff's van and taken about a quarter mile down the muddy access road to see the corn field where the body of Bailey was found.
A sheriff’s office van took jurors Wednesday back the access road to the field where Matthew Bailey’s body was found last October. (Photo by Deanne Johnson)
Todd Flickinger, who lives near the access road, testified later in the afternoon about how he was riding ATVs with two of his children on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 and saw what he thought might be a body. When he got back to the house, Flickinger called a neighbor, Dennis Stowe, who also testified on Wednesday. Stowe said Flickinger told him he thought what looked like a body might have been a Halloween prank.
Both men went back out on the access road in Stowe's pickup and Stowe bumped the heel of the foot of the dead man to see if there was any response. They returned to Stowe's home and called the sheriff's office, which sent someone out to investigate.
Following the view of the murder site by jurors, but prior to any testimony, Assistant County Prosecutor John Gamble and defense attorney Charley Kidder gave opening statements in the case.
Gamble told the jury the body was found in the field with at least 20 blows to the head. To emphasize the blows, Gamble pounded on the lecturn over and over again.
He also went through Miller's actions around that time for the jury, describing how, despite not having a license, Miller picked Colon up from work in her vehicle, a 2001 Black Ford Escape. She reportedly did some chores and went to bed and he went off to meet someone and do some wiring work.
Gamble said in the morning he had not returned, despite knowing Colon needed her vehicle to go somewhere that morning. He sent her a message claiming he had gotten drunk and passed out, which she later reportedly did not believe when she saw him.
According to Gamble, when they left together later that morning to pick up Colon's daughter, Miller reportedly licked his finger, reached across Colon and wiped something off the window. When Colon asked about it, Miller reportedly told her it was probably his blood. Miller had a large cut on the back of his head and claimed he had tripped and fell backward.
Later that night, the county sheriff knocked on the door, and Miller reportedly demanded Colon answer the door so he could run out the back. But a deputy was waiting for him and he ran back inside. Deputies found him hiding under a blanket, Gamble said and took him into custody on a warrant for failure to appear in another case.
Gamble said Miller on the next day offered information about Matthew Bailey's death, despite no one asking him about it. Over the few days Miller reportedly gave deputies three different stories about what happened, stories which sometimes involved a woman in a gray car and a "dude" in a white pickup.
However, deputies were reportedly never able to find either person.
Two of the stories included Miller being struck in the head by someone and waking to find Bailey dead. The other had him finding the body after going to where Bailey had reportedly gone to do some drugs.
Kidder talked to the jury about the large amounts of blood found near the body of Bailey. Kidder noted while there may have been a splatter of blood found on Miller's thermal shirt and the bottom of his boots, the amount is more consistent with someone who found a body than with one who beat someone to death.
Kidder also said he does not believe Gamble and Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones will be producing any murder weapon, anyone who witnessed the murder and no confession.
While Miller's story may have changed, Kidder said he has consistently said he did not do it.
"If you look at the holes in the story, they are so wide, that I agree with Mr. Gamble, there is only one verdict you could come to," said Kidder. "Not guilty."
The trial is expected to resume this morning.